Zipcar to expand into downtown Northampton with two vehicles, joining six others at Smith College

Last modified: Wednesday, August 06, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — Eight years after Zipcar set up shop at Smith College, the national car-sharing service will expand to downtown Northampton by the end of the summer.

Zipcar intends to make two cars available for rent to members in a parking lot directly behind City Hall on Main Street, boosting the number of cars in the city to eight. The other six are parked at Smith College.

“We’re excited about the two additional cars because it will expand Zipcar beyond the borders of the Smith campus into the heart of downtown,” said Mayor David J. Narkewicz, who signed a contract with Zipcar late last week.*

The contract calls for Zipcar to rent two of the 15-minute parking spaces between City Hall and the Puchalski Municipal Building for a combined $100 a month, or $1,200 a year. The spots are not metered and currently allow people to park temporarily on weekdays during business hours. The new Zipcar spaces will be those closest to City Hall, facing the Unitarian Society church.

A Zipcar spokeswoman said the company is still determining what type of cars it will provide downtown, but that officials are excited to expand in an area where they already have a strong presence among the Five Colleges.

“Due to the enthusiasm of those in the Northampton community, and through our partnership with the city, we’re excited to offer a sustainable and cost-effective alternative to car ownership in a convenient location,” spokeswoman CJ Himberg said.

In addition to its Smith College fleet, Zipcar has 16 other vehicles at local colleges including eight at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, four at Amherst College, three at Mount Holyoke College, and one at Hampshire College. The company also launched a new, two-car service in Holyoke in June, Himberg said.

Narkewicz initially discussed with Zipcar allocating parking spaces in the E.J. Gare Parking Garage for car-sharing services, but that idea was met with skepticism by city councilors Jesse M. Adams and Alisa F. Klein this spring. The councilors did not want to give the company, which was bought by Avis Budget Group for $500 million last year, subsidized parking to draw them here.

The council in May approved two requests dedicating up to six spaces in the parking garage or other city parking lots for car-sharing services, and gave the mayor permission to negotiate leases for the spaces. Narkewicz said he heard the council’s concerns, which is partly why Zipcar agreed to the two outdoor spaces rather than using the more expensive covered municipal parking spaces.

The mayor said the two spots fill Zipcar’s desire to be in a central, populated area without taking away valuable Main Street spaces or garage parking.

“This seemed like a great compromise,” Narkewicz said.

The deal will also provide $1,200 in revenue for the city in spaces that currently do not generate money.

The deal leaves room for the mayor to negotiate leases for four more spaces in the future, either for Zipcar or for another car-sharing service company.

Adams said Monday that the contract addressed his concerns, namely that Zipcar will not get a financial incentive to use the garage at free or dramatically reduced rates and that the city receives some money. He is also pleased the city will get car-sharing service downtown, which is a concept all councilors support.

“It sounds like my concerns were assuaged,” Adams said. “I feel like (Narkewicz) listened.”

The two Zipcars could replace up to 30 privately owned vehicles, reducing traffic congestion and freeing more parking spaces downtown, Narkewicz said. He believes Zipcar will reduce the need of some residents and workers to own one or multiple vehicles.

To use a Zipcar, people must become members at the company’s website. Membership costs $60 a year, plus a one-time, $25 application fee. College students pay a reduced fee of $25 for the first year and $35 in subsequent years. Zipcar members can then reserve vehicles by the hour for between $8 and $10 an hour, or by the day for around $70. In addition to the reserved parking spot, rates include gas, insurance, and 180 free miles per day.

Boston-based Zipcar has over 10,000 vehicles in its fleet and more than 850,000 members. The company operates in 26 metropolitan areas, at about 350 college campuses and at 30 airports in five countries.

Chad Cain can be reached at

*This story was corrected from an earlier version.


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